What I know about coffee could be written on the back of a small jar of instant Nescafé. I’ve done the unmentionable and ordered a cappuccino after 11am in Italy, and asked for milk for my Turkish coffee in Sarajevo. I thought coffee beans grew on trees and that cherries were horrible little red fruit that were marinated in embalming fluid (I’d believe anything, I know) and resurrected in those nasty Mozart chocolates sold in Vienna and Budapest. So when I got to visit Waipuna’ula Red Spring Farm on the big island of Hawaii last week, I got more than great company and a fine lunch (complete with cowboy caviar and the best guacamole I’ve had this side of the Mexican border); I got me an education (note: that last bit was written in my best American accent).
Before we get to the coffee, let’s take a quick look around this farm, home to the D’Angelo family for the last five or so years. It is a veritable fountain of fruit. To quote the lady in residence, it’s as if Sleeping Beauty woke up and started living. Everything there is so alive, so full of energy, so beautiful. Thirty-one macadamia nut trees yield about 9000 lbs of nuts. One tangerine tree that just started bearing fruit this year has already offered up 500 lbs of delectable little orange fruit.
Then there’s my favourite, the avocado trees, that have tossed down about 1000 lbs of the sweetest tasting avo I’ve ever tasted. And it doesn’t stop there. On 5.63 acres of land (minus the quarter acre the converted coffee shack sits on) guava, lemons, limes, star fruit, lilikoi, vi apples, papaya, grapefruit, oranges, pineapple, bananas, jaboticaba (whose fruit grows out of the actual tree rather than on a branch), and God only knows what else grows.
Apart from the fact that I had never heard of half the fruit I saw, or didn’t realise that coffee doesn’t grow on trees, I also didn’t know that pineapples come from bushes. And, if you plant the head of the pineapple, it will grow into a bush in about 18 months and give one pineapple every six months or so. Am sooooooo tempted to try this in my living room. Seems like a lot of trouble to go to, but it would make for some interesting conversation. I might have better luck if I planted coffee beans though – they take way longer to grow.
And now the coffee. Think wine. And vines. Coffee bushes can be trellised, just like vines. Who’d have known? The trees on Waipuna’ula are 60-80 years old and the ground is a little orangey, sits high up on the slopes of Hualalai, and yields cherries that make coffee that is… wait for it… future sold. Yes, there’s a limited number of roasts each year, so if you fancy a cup in 2013, you’d better get your order in soon.
When the coffee bushes are in bloom, they’re covered with tiny white flowers, giving rise to a phenomenon known as Kona snow. I was lucky to see the last of it. Think cherry blossoms in Washington DC and you’ll get the picture. When the cherry (the fruit of the coffee bush) is red, it’s picked. Some farms pick them all together – yellow, green, red – but on Waipuna’ula, they stay on the bush till they’re red. And then they’re handpicked. Cherry by cherry. Each cherry has two beans with flattened facing sides. On occasion, when only one of the two beans is fertilised, a single bean forms – this is called a peaberry. Apparently around 5% of all coffee beans harvested are peaberries. There’s a piece of trivia that might come in handy at a pub quiz!
Some farms will sell their cherries directly to the coffee makers for about $1.6o/lb. Others will send the red cherries for wet milling where they are pulped and the skin is removed. What’s left is called parchment. These are then dry milled where the final skin is removed and the green beans can sit for 9 months to a year before being roasted. It takes about 300 lbs of cherry to get 100 lbs of parchment. From tree to cup, it takes about 8 lbs of cherry to get 1 lb of actual coffee. And like wine, coffee varies in quality from farm to farm. As with France and champagne, only coffee grown in Kona can be labelled as Kona Coffee. And like real champagne, Kona coffee is one of the most expensive coffees in the world.
What the D’Angelos have done with the coffee shack they moved into five years ago is just one tiny indication of the family’s many talents. They have plans to start a B&B and the guest room literally oozes a type of calm that inspires creativity and will probably give birth to many a memoir in the years to come. The gardens are beautiful and there’s a pervasive energy that heals and renews. I spent about three hours on Waipuna’ula Red Spring Farm and I swear that I came away with more than a full belly, an insight into farm life on the big island, and the coffee I bought.
I have a feeling, deep in my waters, that for some reason, my visit was preordained. I can’t quite explain it. This week, as I settle back in to life in Budapest, I’m grateful that I had the chance to visit Waipuna’ula and to meet the D’Angelos again. That people still have the courage and the faith to read the signs and follow the path that has chosen them is inspiring. That they so readily share their world with others is even more so. Mahalo.